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2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

Pandharpur Yatra 2023

The first time I visited Pandharpur was back in 2007. The names Vitthal and Pandharpur, were just names to me. I had heard of them, but that was about it. Seeing the lord standing on the brick, hands on his hips, was memorable, but more memorable was the sight that greeted us as we walked out of the main sanctum of the temple. In the mandap just outside were a group of devotees singing abhangs, and dancing. This was the first time I had heard abhangs, and even almost 15 years later, I can remember the welling of feeling within me, listening to the songs, and how fascinated I was by the sight of the devotees dancing, lost in their love of the Lord. Over the years, as I have read more about Vitthal, and participated in Ashadi Ekadashi programmes at Puttaparthi, that first experience has stayed clear in my mind and heart. Every time I tell my Balvikas students of the saints who sang of Vitthala, it is that experience that I re-live. I visited Pandharpur again, in 2010, but that experience was a different one, and I have written about it here. Memorable as that second experience was, the first one is something I have treasured, as my first encounter with Bhakti.

A few days back, that memory came back, stronger than ever, as I was at Pandharpur again, this time in a completely different context. That first time, I was with my entire family. This time, I was the only one from my family, but with a group, with more unfamiliar faces than known ones, but another family of sorts – our Sai family, visiting Pandharpur to sing bhajans in front of the Lord.

From the very beginning, there were many things I was unsure of, regarding this trip. I am not great at travelling with groups, and I usually want to visit many more places than just one. There were just a handful of people I knew, and the prospect of travelling with so many strangers was daunting…. The list went on. But there was something that made me want to go…. Especially the week before, when I heard the group sing at Chembur, and the desire to be part of this trip overshadowed all the hesitation. And then, Shankar had to drop out, and the doubts reappeared with a vengeance. I was resigned to missing this experience, but as it turned out, the Lord had other plans. Spurred on by his friends, Shankar insisted that I join the group, despite my hesitations. And, unwilling to let all the efforts made by the organizers go to waste, and since we had already paid our share, I decided to go on, without him.

I knew I would miss Shankar on this journey, but I did not anticipate the wave of nostalgia that came over me, as we waited to enter the temple. Nostalgia, not only for my two earlier trips, but also for all the stories of Vitthala and Pandharpur that I have heard, read and re-told over the years. Standing at the Namdev Payari, I remembered the story of Namdev as a young boy, convinced that the Lord would come to eat the prasad he offered, seeing the samadhi of Choka Mela, I remembered his vivid poetry that I had read recently. As we walked into the mandap, I was overcome by the thought that we were standing in the same spot that these saints had stood at, that we would be singing where these great souls had poured their hearts out to the Lord. I am not a singer, and yet, here I was, with some of the best bhajan singers I knew, and had an opportunity to accompany them in Namasmarana – singing the name of the Lord, at the same spot where the best of the Bhakti saints had sung.

As the bhajans began, I sang along, grateful to the Lord for this opportunity. However, the mind, especially mine, is one that wanders all the time (as the name of my blog suggests), and soon I was filled with thoughts. We had gone earlier for Mukha darshan – darshan from the mandap, where we can see the face of the Lord, and as we sang, I wished that there weren’t so many people between us and the Lord. There we were, singing right in front of the Lord, but we couldn’t see Him. Even as I strained my memory to imagine the Lord as I had seen him, ignoring the crowds milling around, the sun began to set, and as it passed behind the temple spire, the light fell straight into my eyes, blinding me. The masses of people disappeared, and suddenly it was so much easier to imagine Him standing in that brightness which obliterated everything. The light stayed there for about half an hour, falling on the entire group, as if the Lord was shining a natural spotlight on all of us, as if He was the one who wanted to see us clearly.

In the middle of all this, as the haze of sunlight cleared and our eyes focused, one of the kids in our group who had been running around, appeared right at the centre, in front of the mandap. As he pranced around, oblivious to his surroundings, I was reminded that the Lord might be called Vitthal here, but he was Krishna, the young, mischievous boy who stole everyone’s heart. And here he was, reminding all of us once again that he was not only within the stone, but we had to learn to see him everywhere, in everyone.

The bhajans continued, as did my waves of nostalgia. More than Shankar, I missed my father-in-law. I remembered that very first visit, when he stopped to listen to the abhangs being sung right here, and refused to move till the group was done. With a smile, I thought that the only difference between then and now was that the group then was of varkaris who danced as they sang, while we were singing bhajans sitting down. Even as that thought crossed my mind, an elderly varkari gentleman walked in, and began dancing! As he swayed along to the music, lost in his own world, my eyes welled with tears.

Later, as we stood in the queue to have a closer darshan of the Lord, my thoughts were of a different kind – of my own devotion and faith. Faith, from what I have seen, is unique for each one of us, and so is devotion. We each interpret our experiences in our own way, and each experience gives different results to each one of us. In the group that I was part of, faith and devotion was strong for most people, but each expressed it in different ways. We all had the same experiences at the temple, but I am sure each one of us felt the touch of the Lord in different ways. As I read the different experiences posted by the different people in the group, this feeling has strengthened further. While the central reaction to the sunlight falling on us, and the varkari dancing was the same for all of us, it touched us all in different ways.

Our journey continued beyond Pandharpur to Chakur in Latur district, where Swami had visited back in 2001. We had an opportunity to sing there again, and as we walked among mango-laden trees, breathing in the fresh air, my thoughts were still about bhakti. A friend of mine often says that mine is the path of Jnana - the path that leads to the Lord through the search for knowledge, and not of Bhakti, which is unflinching, unquestioning faith towards the Lord. At Pandharpur, which is at the centre of the Bhakti tradition in Maharashtra, these lines blurred for me. 


  1. Amazing ! Beautifully written !

  2. Very beautifully written Anu. Enjoyed reading

  3. Superb Anuradha, enjoyed reading - Swarna

  4. Great read - made me long to visit Pandharpur once again.

  5. Good Blog. Thanks For Sharing.

  6. Thanks for sharing this blog, Keep it up!


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